More than a dozen anti-Muslim protesters gathered outside a downtown Toronto mosque Feb. 17. Facebook

Vandalism against Jews and Muslims prompts calls to renew faith dialogue

  • March 9, 2017

A surge in vandalism and hate speech against Jews and Muslims has prompted a call for the revival of a national platform for Christian-Jewish or Christian-Muslim dialogue.

A “Proposal for a Canadian Network of Christian Jewish Dialogue” from Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Montreal began circulating among local dialogue groups in February. The national Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation foundered in 2006 after almost 30 years of theological dialogue when the United Church of Canada backed divestment strategies to pressure Israel over its settlements inside Palestinian territory, the security wall Israel has constructed and military control over roads and other key installations inside Palestine. Jewish representatives complained the United Church’s actions were high handed and taken without any consultation with the Jewish community or the official dialogue.

Some form of national dialogue is necessary now to counter a social media atmosphere that makes anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim attitudes and actions seem normal or acceptable, said Murray Watson, one of the founders of the Muslim-Christian-Jewish trialogue in London, Ont.

Watson teaches Scripture and the history of Christian-Jewish relations at Western University and the Ecco Homo Centre for Biblical Formation in Jerusalem.

“Any diminishment in Jewish-Christian relations undermines so much good that has been done and that is still very, very necessary,” said Watson. “As we have seen in recent weeks, these threats are not going away.”

Protesters with “Ban Islam” signs converged on a downtown Toronto mosque before Friday prayers Feb. 17. The protesters harassed Muslims as they entered their mosque to pray. That same weekend, Mezuzahs, bearing scripture from the first five books of the Bible, were stolen or vandalized and anti-Semitic notes left in a Toronto apartment building with a large number of Jewish residents. Anti-Semitic slogans have been spray-painted on the walls of an elementary school in Vancouver. On March 7, a Jewish community centre in Toronto was evacuated after reporting a bomb threat, as did several other Jewish centres in U.S. cities.

The uptick in religious hatred moved Toronto Mayor John Tory to call a meeting with faith leaders. The focus was on getting all faith groups to speak out against religious bigotry and hatred, said Archdiocese of Toronto ecumenical and interfaith affairs director Fr. Tim MacDonald.

“Let’s get practical here. What can we do?” was the main question the mayor posed, MacDonald said.

But the idea of another Christian-Jewish dialogue isn’t necessarily the answer, said Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto executive director Barbara Boraks.

“With the many realities we are now faced with, we need more multi-faceted dialogue,” Boraks said. “Establishing a national Christian-Jewish dialogue could be important. I would like to suggest, however, that given the current realities it might be preferable to focus efforts on an Abrahamic dialogue in Canada (with Muslims, Jews and Christians all meeting together).”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs isn’t so sure that high-level theological discussions involving Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities present in Canada would accomplish much.

“If anything, it might serve as a distraction,” said CIJA spokesman Steve McDonald.

The great variety of Christian churches, Muslim communities and the many movements within Judaism can make it difficult for dialogue partners to know when they’ve agreed on a position.

In the aftermath of the breakdown in the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation and as CIJA took over from the old Canadian Jewish Congress, the Jewish community has focussed on issue-specific coalitions and joint actions with interfaith partners.

“We worked with 20 other faith and ethnic groups on hate crimes legislation,” McDonald said. “The key for us is really identifying interfaith engagement opportunities for joint action.”

The rise in vandalism aimed at faith communities is certainly one issue on which Canadian Jews are looking for allies, said McDonald.

“There needs to be a very vocal, collective response,” he said.

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